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Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka Talk Judas Iscariot’s Journey Through Life and Death in Judas

Judas Iscariot journeys through life and death, grappling with his place in “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” and how much of his part was preordained. In a religion built on redemption and forgiveness, one man had to sacrifice himself for everyone…and it wasn’t Jesus.

Writer and Jeff Loveness and artist Jakub Rebelka present a new take on Judas in the new limited series Judas being published by BOOM! Studios. Judas #1 comes to shelves December 13, 2017.

We got a chance to talk to Jeff and Jakub about the new series and whether they were worried about any backlash.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for Judas come from and why a comic?

Jeff Loveness: I know this sounds cliche, but it was an idea I bolted up with really late at night. That never, never happens. But I couldn’t shake the image of Judas Iscariot waking up in Hell, realizing how truly lost he is. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the conflicting emotions he’d feel. Guilt, terror and shame… but then he’d grow into rage, and spite towards Christ… maybe even thinking of revenge. The spiritual battle within Judas felt so compelling to me.

And then I started piecing together a narrative from things I love: Hieronymus Bosch Hellscapes. Pilgrim’s Progress. What Dreams May Come. The concept of Pre-Destination vs. the Christian notion of limitless love and forgiveness. It all started to blend into a personal, tragic spiritual epic. Can you find a way to redeem yourself, even from within the pits of Hell? Should you even want to? When you’re that deep in despair, is grace even worth the fight?

At first I was envisioning this as a one-act play, but… I don’t write plays, and that probably would’ve been terrible. It seemed like it could only be a comic once the visuals started coming to my head. Comics give you such a wild canvas, and Jakub Rebelka, as you’ll see, is knocking it out of the park.

There’s also something to be said for the visual nature of Religious stories. For hundreds of years, paintings and murals and frescoes were the primary way some people knew these stories. It’s been interesting to lean back, strip down the dialogue, and embrace the visual grandeur of the narrative.

GP: Jakub, how’d you come to join the Judas series?

Jakub Rebelka: Eric Harburn [BOOM! Studios editor] invited me to make concepts for few characters. Working on those concepts, I knew I had to draw this book.

GP: The coloring for the comic is really interesting, sticking to basic colors, with each page and section feeling like it has a palette. Where’d that decision come from?

JR: I did the concept for hell in cold blue because it is a cold and empty space.We decided to give each location a leading colour.

GP: How much of this comic is researched on real Biblical text as far as story and design?

JL: All of it. I had to exorcise all my Bible knowledge somehow. I wanted this to feel adjacent to a Bible story… but darkly inverted in some way. The horrific underbelly of Christian myth.

I love setting a story firmly within Hell. There’s a bit of Dante’s Inferno, it’s inescapable when dealing with the subject, but I wanted to make Hell a lonelier place. An emptier place. I wanted it to feel cold, like the absolute end of potential. You are tortured by your own worthlessness. We’ve seen fire and red devils and stuff like that… so I wanted to take us into a more personal space, where you have nothing but time to reflect upon your failures with no hope of escaping them.

GP: When I read the first issue, the characters stood out in the fact they’re not white. With parts of the story taking place in the Middle East, it feels like you’ve recognized that and are making sure to reflect that in the art. Is that the case?

JR: Working with BOOM! Studios is always a team effort. Credit for this idea goes to Eric- the black halo around Judas’ head was his suggestion.We wanted to make the characters more believable. My style of drawing is far from being realistic but colour can make huge difference and tell a story as well.

GP: When it comes to that depiction and the fact you’re telling a story about Judas, do you worry about being protested?

JL: Haha. I feel Christians have enough on their plates to deal with in the world right now, but if they wanna trade some Bible verses with me, I’ll be in the Orange Julius in the Topanga Mall Court, waiting for them. I say they should deal with that Roy Moore guy before attacking a comic about Judas Iscariot in Hell… but it’s up to them.

Also, I would ask them to read all 4 issues. You guys will have to let me know if we succeed, but I … kinda feel it’s not blasphemous. I feel it lines up pretty well with Christian doctrine. It both exposes the hypocrisies and flaws latent within it AND makes a compelling case for why this story, flaws and all, has stood the test of time for 2000 years. There’s something undeniably noble and beautiful about it, even if we aren’t the heroes of the story.

I love The Brothers Karamavoz by Dostoyevsky. I think that book gives the best defense, and attack against, Christianity that I’ve ever read- and all within a 100 pages or so. I am not Dostoyevsky. I write comic books about talking space-trees. But I was inspired by how you can show the agony and ecstasy of both experiences.

JR: Not really – its’ just a story. Nobody here wants to offend anyone.

GP: The first issue really seems to play with the concept that Judas’ role was preordained. Where’d that idea come from for the comic?

JL: The Bible itself. Jesus said “Woe to he who betrays the Son of Man. It would be better if he had never been born.” That’s a… pretty harsh thing to say about your friend who was born to betray you. I always felt sorry for Judas growing up. All of this seemed bigger than he was. And he never had a choice to do anything but this. And nobody cared what happened to him afterwards. I wanted to begin Judas’ story right where it usually ends.

GP: With so many different interpretations of Christianity, how’d you settle on which to tackle for this series?

JL: Good point. Christianity has so many interpretations and denominations, and it’s unfair to lump it all together. But I tried taking the story we all know from the 4 canonical Gospels- and going from there. Gnostic Gospels and extra books are always fun, but I wanted to make a statement about the overall, macro-story, not the fringe or niche elements.

GP: Have you thought about taking on other religious stories in comics?

JL: I feel it’s hard to write a Western-style story without some Christianity peppering itself in somewhere. At the moment, this is my only specific religious story… but I dunno. World Reader was full of meandering cosmic space-theology… which is by far my favorite kind of mythology. Everything I write, be it a comic or a TV show, seems to have a youth pastor with a goatee in there somewhere. I will never be free of him.

GP: What else do you have on tap that folks can check out?

JL: I’ve written Groot and Nova for Marvel, along with a 3 part Spider-Man/Captain America/Inhumans crossover that I like, and a couple little Marvel things beyond that. My very first original sci-fi comic, World Reader, just came out in paperback. There’s some similar, Judas-y themes in that.

There are a few TV things in the works I can’t announce yet… but uh… follow me on Twitter and that’ll probably come out soon: @JeffLoveness.

You can check out Miracle Workers, out on TBS next year. Or just watch… any episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live from the last 6 years. Or just hunt me down in the Topanga Mall Orange Julius. I will be waiting.